Since Jeannette and Jessica and I all are (or will be) turning 40 within weeks of each other, we decided to celebrate big in Miami Beach. None of us had been there before, so we were all excited to check it out.
We arrived on Thursday morning. Jess and Jeannette were delayed from New York because of a storm in Miami, but I somehow got in ok. When we finally left the airport and headed for our hotel, the Thompson Miami Beach, the storm had paused. We had hopes to spend the day orienting ourselves on a Citibike and hanging out at the beach. We checked in to the hotel and because we were all celebrating our birthdays, or more likely because it was the slow season, we were upgraded to a room with full ocean views. Patricia, the awesome front desk manager, also let us know that there would be a “birthday treat” for us later on. I managed to take one beautiful photo of our room view (above) before it started to pour.
We headed to Seagrape, in our hotel, for a leisurely afternoon lunch. This is Michelle Bernstein, who you might recognize from TV‘s, restaurant. We talked and talked and caught up. It had been some time (10 months?) since we’d all seen each other. It was pouring outside, so there was no rush. Seagrape was participating in Miami Spice, which is basically like restaurant week, but it lasts for 2 months. We were enjoying our prix fixe meal and some cocktails. At some point the restaurant manager came and talked to us about our birthdays. At the end of our meal he came rushing out with three glasses of complementary champagne and with candles for our desserts and made sure we all made made a wish. Seagrape was excellent and was named one of Miami’s hottest new restaurants this year!
It was warm in Miami, about 85 degrees, but still raining. We decided to brave it and take a walk around the hotel anyway. We passed by two pools and there were some girls swimming in one of them. We decided, what the heck, you get wet in a pool anyway, so we quickly changed and went out to join them for a swim!
When we finally got cold and went back to our room, we were surprised with a bottle of prosecco and a bunch of birthday sweets! Patricia at the front desk also included a hand-written note to welcome us to the Thompson Miami Beach and to wish us a good time on our birthday stay. So sweet!
We drank the prosecco and relaxed in our room before deciding to go out for a casual Cuban dinner. On a recommendation, we chose Havana 1957 on Espanola Way. To be completely honest, it was just ok and Espanola Way was really touristy and cheesy. Later on a local told us there’s a certain area everyone goes to for good Cuban food. Overall, I’d say, we had many GREAT meals in Miami Beach. It’s not that Havana 1957 was bad, but it wasn’t GREAT. Also, it was hard to enjoy after we kept seeing cockroaches scurrying around (we were seated outside). Our table was awkwardly crammed between two other tables and there was a speaker blaring music in my ear so I couldn’t hear anything anyone was saying. This was probably our worst dinner pick of the trip, but that’s ok! Now we know. And can tell you!
We called it an early night, since we’d all gotten up at around 4 a.m. that morning to get to the airport!
After Thursday’s bad weather and after looking at the forecast for the weekend, I think we’d all resigned ourselves to the fact that the weather was just going to be shit and we’d just have to deal with it. I knew we’d still have a great time and that spending time with old friends is always good, even if it’s not on the beachy trip you’d imagined. On Friday we had plans and lunch reservations in the Wynwood area of Miami (off the beach). We were going to see some of the design district and have lunch out there. We slept in until almost 9 a.m., probably the latest I’ve slept in in two years. When I opened up the patio curtains and the sun was blazing, I cancelled my lunch reservation and made the executive decision to go to the pool immediately!
Except that the pool was super swampy from all the rain. Jeannette immediately got five mosquito bites, so we headed to the beach. And it was awesome. Sunny with a breeze. Slightly cloudy, so it wasn’t too hot. No mosquitos! We set up with three chairs and an umbrella and met the most excellent beach server, Ryan, who ended up helping us all weekend long. The water in Miami Beach was so clear and turquoise. And not cold at all. It was so nice!
Our beach day was cut short when at about 2:00 p.m. Ryan came running to warn us that a storm was rolling in. Just like that it started pouring and we had to run back to the hotel!! We were drenched, but whatever. We were just drenched from the ocean 10 minutes before that :).
We rested back at the hotel, took showers and got ready, took balcony selfies and then went to South Beach for drinks and dinner.
Our first stop of the night was at the Delano hotel. It’s a high-end hotel and we had fun looking around inside and out before heading to Rose Bar. The bar was super fancy. We had some delicious custom-made drinks by a bartender whose name I forget. He was really nice and from North Africa, is what I remember. His secret ingredient in his mojito was coconut rum. The coconut taste was not strong, but just enough to give a hint.
The rain had started again and it kind of put the kabosh on our plans to bar hop around to different South Beach bars before going to dinner. When the rain took a break, we made a run for it, but the streets were still totally flooded.
We made it to the Raleigh, across the street from our dinner reservation. I recognized this from an Anthony Bourdain show where he said he always stays at the Raleigh. It has a really cool art deco design and the pool area looked amazing. Like the coolest pool I saw all weekend. We peeked around and the crossed the street to go to dinner.
For dinner, Cleo was recommended to us by multiple people. We all loved the decor, which was sophisticated but mismatched: Think antique plates that aren’t all the same. And the food was amazing. This was my favorite meal of the weekend. It’s Mediterranean tapas. The baba ganoush and naan cooked in the woodfire oven were amazing. The wagyu skirt steak paired with mushrooms were amazing. I loved the moussaka. Oh, and the brussels sprouts were seriously whoa. So good. Everything we tried was delicious. And our server was very nice and attentive. If you’re in Miami Beach, go here. At the end of our meal, they brought out three flourless chocolate cakes with candles for our birthdays!!
Cleo won Best ‘Middleterranean’ Restaurant from the Miami New Times and was named one of OpenTable’s “50 Hottest Restaurants in the U.S.”, so don’t just take our word for it!
On Saturday I opened the curtains to see, again, another gorgeous day! Our hotel’s pool area is alongside a wooden boardwalk that runs along the beach. Eventually, as you go south, it turns into more of a pavement sidewalk, but I’d been eying the wooden boardwalk and wanting to walk on it, so we got some iced coffees and took a stroll. It was SO HOT, though.
Our hotel was at about 40th and Collins and we found this cool 40 marker just off the boardwalk. We had some guy take a photo of us with it.
Eventually we veered off and stumbled upon Beachcraft, which I didn’t even recognize at first as being one of Tom Colicchio’s restaurants. It was gorgeous inside, just opened this year, and was also named one of the 10 hottest new restaurants in Miami. We were mostly there to rest and only had coffee and fruit, but the food everyone around us was eating looked great.
We walked a bit more along Collins and were disappointed that there wasn’t more to see. It was mostly all hotels. I wanted to see some crazies, some rollerskating on the boardwalk, some of these string bikinis that everyone is scandalized about. But it was mostly just hotel roundabouts and lobbies. All the bars we’d been to were all nice and classy and age appropriate with big price tags. I guess THIS IS Miami Beach. I thought there was more cheese, and just wanted to sample it, but I guess not! zzzzz We did come across a few cheesy stores like Alvin’s Island.
Just south of 17th Street (we’d walked down from 40th, remember), we turned onto Lincoln Road. This is where Lincoln Road Mall, an outdoor shopping center, is located. We weren’t really interested in going there because all of the stores seemed to be the same as the stores at home (Zara, Gap, Apple, etc), but it was on the way to our lunch destination. Multiple people told us this was also a good area to people watch, but when we were there it was pretty empty. Maybe we were at an off time (Saturday at 11 a.m.), but it was disappointing.
Finally, after walking 2.5 miles, we reached our destination: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar. We’d heard from a few people that this was a great place for brunch. In addition, it was rated 4.5/5.0 on Yelp, Open Table and Trip Advisor, and was ranked #11 restaurant out of 874 in Miami Beach, and Bourdain went to Yardbird with Questlove and do we need another and!? When Jeannette tried to make a reservation she had no luck…. but then she got in eventually, so we were all psyched to try it out.
Yardbird was a close second to Cleo as far as my favorite place we ate on the trip. There were so many things on the menu I wanted to try! We settled on fried chicken with waffles and watermelon, cheesy grits, biscuits with honey butter and jam, quiche and maple-glazed bacon doughnuts. Everything was so good. The chicken was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Biscuits were perfect. Quiche was so rich and decadent. When they brought out the doughnuts at the end we couldn’t even eat them all because we were so stuffed!! Our server was super nice and attentive and even answered some questions we had about Miami and Miami Beach, in general. At the end he brought out a sweets plate with three candles and a birthday with for us!
After lunch we took a cab to the souternmost point in South Beach, South Pointe Park.
It was gorgeous, but also blazing hot with very little shade, so we only walked around a little bit before cabbing it back up to our hotel and retreating to the beach!
Ahhhhhhhh… back on the beach. It felt SO refreshing after walking around so much and being so hot.
Nice refreshing drinks!
Later on that night we walked to the Fountainebleau for dinner at Scarpetta by Scott Conant. This was our splurge dinner as Scarpetta is fancy schmancy Italian with price tags to match. We actually ended up getting the tasting menu because it seemed like a better deal and would let us try three appetizers, three pastas, three mains and two desserts, all served family style. The pastas were the real winners for me. It was all freshly made pasta and you could really tell. I loved the crab tagliatelle and the duck and foi gras ravioli! At the end our waiter brought out our desserts with candles and happy birthday messages!
On our final day of vacation we contemplated going to the spa or finally getting out to Wynwood, but in the end we just laid by the beach from breakfast til 3 p.m. Our friend Ryan surprised us with a complementary bottle of Veuve champagne! So nice! And what a great ending to a great vacation! We used the hospitality suite to shower, grabbed a late and quick lunch at Seagrape and then headed for the airport. Before I knew it, I was back at O’Hare, sad but excited to see Dallas and Makai.